Who Was Harold Libbey?

Harold Libbey (1980's photo)
Harold Libbey (1980’s photo)

In 2004, a new trail on Libby Hill was opened and called the Harold Libbey trail.  This trail has become extremely popular and always included in guided tours.  On these tours I always get asked, “Who was Harold Libbey?  In 2007, Harold’s son Richard, provided an interview and shared some pictures and stories about his dad.  Here is a little background on the man who was the namesake for this trail.

Harold was born in 1903 at the Wilbert Libbey House (see photo left), known to most in town today as the Pine Tree Telephone Company house on 15 Shaker Road.  On the left you can see a photo from the early 1900’s of this house.  Harold grew up in the house and had a backyard that stretched for a mile to farms on McConkey Road.  This was 40 years before the Maine Turnpike was built (which goes through the original farm property), and Route 26 was just a road that saw occasional horse and car traffic for those going toward Poland and South Paris.

Wilbert T. Libbey Home
Wilbert T. Libbey House – early 1900’s (now Gorrill and Palmer Engineering

Harold grew up a few steps from town yet with hundreds of acres of fields and woods out his back door.  He had lots of chores keeping a working farm going both as a farm and cutting firewood for the chilly winter nights.  Farmhouses typically consumed 15-20 cords of wood per year to heat the house and cook food.  In summers, a separate kitchen was used that was on the back of the house to keep the heat of the cook stove out of the main house.  So, in addition to the chores at the house, Harold would go out to the family’s wood lots on Libby Hill, about one mile from the house.  There they would cut firewood and let it dry in summer to be hauled back to the house and stored in the barn and shed for the next year’s heating and cooking.  So, I suppose on many afternoons, Harold spent time with his dad, Wilbert T., cutting wood out on what today is the trail system named after him.

Wilbert T. & Eliza Libbey
Wilbert T. & Eliza Libbey – Harold’s parents

Wilbert T. (Harold’s father) is famous in the family for changing the spelling of their last name.  Sometime in the late 1800’s there were dozens of Libby’s in Gray.  Descendants of town father, Daniel Libby, and one hundred years later, the Libby clan had grown significantly.  Then came the dilemma that caused the name change.  Apparently, addressing a letter in the 1800’s required you to put a name, town, and state to get a letter delivered, no zip codes then!  However, since many folks omitted street addresses and simply abbreviated names.  Wilbert often would have his name written as “W.T. Libby”, which would be fine except at that time, two other men in town had the same initials.  So, the Libby’s were getting each other’s mail and causing some major privacy issues.   W.T. being a man of action decided to add an ‘e’ to his last name, and thus the LIBBEY spelling came to be!

I asked if Harold did any wild things as a youth.  Sure enough, he had a sly sense of humor, and two events showed his playful side.  One Halloween he and some friends took a wagon full of hay and filled up the local barbershop (next to current Goodies Pizza) completely with hay from floor to ceiling!  On another occasion, he took the same hay wagon and somehow got it up on the top of a barn in town!  Now that would have been a picture I would like to have seen!

Harold & Effie Libbey
Harold & Effie Libbey

Harold though went on to become a hard-working young man, attending the local Pennell Institute for a couple of years and then finishing his high school years at Deering High School in Portland.  He then went on to work a couple of years in the South Portland shipyards before landing a job at the Cushman Bakery in 1932.  This bakery in Portland provided a wide variety of baked goods throughout southern and central Maine.  Harold was much like today’s ‘Schwanns’ man, taking baked goods to homes and businesses, door to door.  He landed the Augusta route and used his personable demeanor to provide bakery items to the public.  He was particularly good at his job and after 20 years got promoted to territory supervisor for the Bridgton area.  He moved his family there and finished his working career with Cushman’

Harold met his wife, Effie Stinchfield, who was the local schoolteacher at the Dry Mills School (which moved from Dry mills to the Gray Wildlife Park).

Harold spent his non-working time outdoors enjoying hunting and fishing.  He also had over 350 acres of land inherited from his father.  This acreage was scattered over several ‘woodlots’ on Libby Hill and other areas of Gray.

Thomas Low Libby
Thomas Low Libby

In a couple of hours, I learned quite a bit about Harold Libbey and now have an answer for those hikers who ask me about him.  Then I started scanning the photos I used for this article, and you can see that grin that shows his sense of humor.  It is also apparent that whatever trail he is on, he is having a good day outdoors!  While he never would know he would have a trail named after him, hundreds of people now walk in the same woods he enjoyed as a boy and see Libby Hill much as it was.  In Harold’s life (he died in 1993 at age 90) much changed in Gray.  The Maine Turnpike divided the town, a new bypass has been built, his quiet country road now hosts over 20,000 cars a day, and the town population has quadrupled.  Many of the fields and woods that he enjoyed are giving way to development.  Despite all this, Harold worked hard, raised a family, and passed on his love of the outdoors to his sons.  It was this philanthropy that got passed to the people of Gray in 2003, when Richard and Wilbert Libbey gave forty-six acres of Harold’s favorite hill to the Libby Hill Trail system.  Now when I pass the memorial to Harold, I will think of him sitting on some rocks, just down the hill smiling as he enjoys the woods!

Obituary of Thomas Low Libby
Obituary of Thomas Low Libby

Thomas Low Libby – a connection to the settlers of Libby Hill

Thomas Low Libby was Harold’s grandfather shown in the old buggy photo to the left.  Thomas Low was the grandson of Daniel Libby the original settler of Gray, making Harold the Great-Great-Great Grandson of Daniel Libby.  Thomas was born in 1823 and was the son of James Libby (born 1786).  James lived in the house that now only has the foundation remains on Libby Hill trails. There is a good chance that Thomas Low was born in the house that used to be on the top of Libby Hill.

From the death registration on file with the Town of Gray: “1901, Mar 19; Libby, Thomas L. 77Y 10M 21D, Born Gray, male, married, Pneumonia; Lumberman & Farmer; James Libby, Gray and Mahitable Lowe Lyman; Gray Cemetery Sec 2, Av F, Lot 3”

– interview by Steve McPike August 2007

Holmquist Hollow trail remains closed from storm damage however, all other trails are open.